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Environment Headlines - 23 September, 2005

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Report says global warming could spark conflict

Reuters via Common Dreams
CANBERRA - Rising world temperatures could cause a significant increase in disease across Asia and Pacific Island nations, leading to conflict and leaving hundreds of millions of people displaced, a new report said on Thursday.

Global warming by the year 2100 could also lead to more droughts, floods and typhoons, and increase the incidence of malaria, dengue fever and cholera, the report into the health impact of rising temperatures found.

Compiled by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Australian Conservation Foundation, the country's leading medical and environment groups, the study predicts average temperatures will rise by between 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) and 6 degrees by 2100.

"We're not just talking about a longer summer or a shorter ski season," AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal told reporters. "Climate change will damage our health. People will get sick as a direct result. People will die in larger numbers as our earth, our world, our home, heats up."
(22 September 2005)


Two such powerful storms a rarity, their cause a mystery

Thomas H. Maugh II, LA Times
Although the Gulf of Mexico has seen two Category 5 hurricanes this summer — with sustained wind speeds in excess of 155 mph — such extremely powerful storms are rare beasts that often fade before reaching land.

Since 1928, only 28 Category 5 hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic Ocean, and of those, eight have struck land, three of them in the United States. Those three were an unnamed storm that hit the Florida Keys in 1935; Camille, which hit Mississippi in 1969; and Andrew, which struck southern Florida in 1992.

Hurricane Katrina weakened to Category 4, with winds of 131 mph to 155 mph, before it struck the Gulf Coast last month. Rita is expected to do the same before it encounters the Texas coast Friday night or Saturday morning.

The occurrence of two such massive storms within a month has prompted a rash of speculation about the causes, whether global warming or simply cyclical changes in ocean temperature.

The bottom line is, no one knows. One thing most scientists agree on is that higher ocean temperatures lead to more intense storms.
(22 September 2005)


Hurricane fuel: warm, moist air over warm ocean water
How a Category 5 monster is formed over the open sea

Keay Davidson, SF Chronicle
Just as an oil fire speeds down an oil slick, a hurricane is fueled, partly guided and intensified by masses of warm, moist air that form over currents of warm ocean water.

That's how Hurricane Rita has grown with frightening speed from a puny low-pressure cell and swelled into a massive, potentially city-busting Category 5 monster as it bears down on the Gulf Coast.

The difference between the formation of ordinary clouds and the generation of hurricanes is partly a matter of degree: Both owe their existence to rising bubbles of warm, moist air. For hurricanes, though, an additional factor is the formation of a huge, spinning low-air-pressure cell that continually refuels itself by sucking in more and more warm, moist air.

...Temperature is the key: "Ocean water must remain above 82 degrees Fahrenheit" for a hurricane to thrive, according to a NASA Web site.

Because ocean water is warmest from mid- to late year, "the peak of the season is from mid-August to late October. However, deadly hurricanes can occur anytime in the hurricane season," says a Web site run by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(22 September 2005)


Global Warming is to Blame

Stuart Staniford, The Oil Drum
Many hurricane experts seem to downplay the global warming link... Still, the events of the last two years seem so off the scale of previous experience that I wanted to delve further. It's not that there are more hurricanes. It's not that there are more hurricane days. It's that more of the hurricanes are category 4 and 5. Everywhere. So either,

1. Global warming is leading to an increase in the most intense hurricanes (in addition to melting all the glaciers and the North pole),
2. An unknown global factor is leading to more devastating hurricanes everywhere.

...I think we can stop all the pussyfooting in the press about how no individual storm can be attributed to global warming. Ok, we can't attribute Katrina to global warming. Ok, we can't attribute Rita to global warming. But I think there's a pretty decent argument to be made that two category five hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, back-to-back, inside a month, is not something that would have happened if global warming had not doubled the incidence of category 4 and 5 storms.

Given that global warming appears to be causing probably irreversible runaway changes like melting the permafrost, I think the only question now is how long it is before we need to add a Category 6 to the scale.

Welcome to the twenty-first century.
(22 September 2005)


Sorry, Mr President, homilies won't stop the hurricanes

Jeremy Rifkin, Guardian
We Americans need to get out of our SUVs and learn the harsh lesson of Katrina and Rita: we are all to blame
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If I could get the ear of George Bush, for just a moment, I would say: "Mr President, if you had looked deeply into the eye of the storm, what you would have seen was the future demise of the planet we live on." It's time to tell the American people and the world the real lesson of Katrina: that we need to mobilise the talent, energy and resolve of the American people, and of people everywhere, to wean ourselves off the oil spigot that's threatening the future of every creature on earth.

President Bush, spare us your homilies about American determination to "weather the storm and persevere". Tell us the truth about why Katrina and Rita really happened. Ask us to consider a change of heart about our profligate, energy-consuming lifestyles. Call on us to conserve our existing fossil-fuel reserves and make sacrifices. Provide us with a game plan to move America to a new, sustainable energy future based on renewable sources of energy and hydrogen power. We're waiting.

Jeremy Rifkin is the author of The Hydrogen Economy: the Creation of the World Wide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth
(23 September 2005)


Spain's greenhouse effect: the shimmering sea of polythene consuming the land

Giles Tremlett, The Guardian
To grow food all year, Almería is cloaked in plastic. But soil-free farming is bringing prosperity and problems
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From the lens of a passing satellite, Almería province is one of the most recognisable spots on the planet. The roofs of tens of thousands of closely packed plastic greenhouses form a blanket of mirrored light beaming into space.

The shimmering surface is down to an agricultural gold rush that has turned one of Spain's poorest corners into Europe's largest greenhouse. An area so arid and dusty that it provided the backdrop for spaghetti westerns, Almería has made a fortune by covering itself with a canopy of transparent plastic. Above all, it is a monument to the way we now grow our food. Almería, and the area around it, is Europe's winter market garden, spread across 135 square miles.

Symbols of hastily acquired wealth abound. Farmers glint with gold jewellery. New shopping malls rise above the plastic. Immigrants from as far off as Mali, Colombia or Ukraine offer their toil and their sweat. Instead of trying to sell cars or banks, billboards advertise seeds.

Antonio Moreno, one of thousands of smallholders who have built this plastic jungle, knows how to put fresh tomatoes on British tables in January or courgettes at Christmas. He grows crops that have no direct contact with nature beyond sun, air and water. "You really should wear shorts in here," he says in the 45C (113F) heat as he points to tubes from which tomato plants sprout.

Mr Moreno's plants will never touch soil - they grow from bags filled with oven-puffed grains of white perlite stone. Chemical fertilisers are drip-fed to each plant from four large, computer-controlled vats in a nearby room. He talks proudly of his vats. They hold, he says, potassium nitrate, magnesium and potassium sulphate, calcium nitrate and phosphoric acid. "The plants get exactly what they need, nothing more and nothing less," he says. "There is no waste.
(21 September 2005)
The original article goes on to detail the problems with the greenhouses, such as extensive pesticide use. Followers of sustainable agriculture will have many other criticisms. -BA

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